Experiences and observations like these were catalysts in Siva’s passion for the TheModelAlliance and its cause to protect and empower models, whose rights are often disregarded in the industry.
“Even still today, models are told to put up with a lot. We have to be told, you know, ‘it’s okay if maybe we don’t get to eat in between castings and you’re hungry. It’s okay if your feet are really hurting after running around the city in five-inch heels. And, I mean, if a casting director comes onto you, just smile and play along.’ And there are a lot of things that models have to put up with that I really feel like models shouldn’t.”
This exploitation of models is possible and models go along with it, Siva said, because they are told from day 1 that they are disposable, that they have to change, whether that means lying about their ethnicity because that’s what the client wants or taking birth control pills to clear their skin.
“From the beginning, you learn that you’re dispensable, that you don’t have a support system from your agency, and that if you don’t do it, somebody else will,” Siva said. “If you’re not willing to take your clothes off, somebody else will. So it’s really hard to stand up to that system. It’s an industry that turns out workers that are easily exploited.”
Siva said she is lucky that she has never suffered serious abuses. Every girl has pressures, but she said the key is for models to figure out where their boundaries are. However, that is a learning process.
Siva recalled posing on a stool for her first photo shoot in New York when the photographer suddenly came up behind her and unhooked her bra. Lacking any basis for comparison to know if this was normal or to know what to do, Siva went along with the shoot and said nothing. Nowadays, she has learned to say ‘no’ when asked to pose nude or topless, ignoring the guilt trips and emotional manipulation the photographers often employ in response.
“You’re really plunged into this seemingly glamorous world, and you have to figure out what the rules are for that world,” Siva said. “It’s like starting a new game and your goal is supermodel status, but you don’t know the rules of the game and you don’t know how to reach that status. So there’s kind of a learning curve.”
As a ‘straight-size’ model, meaning a model fits into the typical size 0-2 the average model does, Siva said she meets the physical criterion for anorexia. Yet even then she was instructed by her agent to lose her back fat and slim her thighs, which she said was absurd.
“You learn very quickly that you can’t please everyone,” Siva said. “You have a commitment first and foremost to yourself.”
For Siva, part of that commitment is her lifelong passion for food, which comes first and foremost. Growing up with her Vietnamese and Indian family and their cuisine, Siva also began to follow various food blogs around high school, with a particular fascination with the classic sophistication of French cuisine and moleculargastronomy, a culinary movement that takes a scientific approach to food (think Dr. House in Season 6).
Siva now maintains her own popular cooking blog and writes about food, even interviewing Top Chef Texas winner Paul Qui. She said she wouldn’t ever sacrifice food for modeling, especially since modeling is only a temporary job and it’s important to have a more sustainable career.
But nailing a spot on Seventeen’s model approval list for future photo shoots sure doesn’t hurt.
Photo Credit: Enrique Vega (http://www.enrique-vega.net/)